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Fox Squirrel Rescue III: But Wait! There's More!

Thursday, April 30, 2015


I watched Angel feeding the orphaned fox squirrels, and even tried it myself. It's harder than it looks. They wiggle a LOT, and chew the nipple, and choke, and aspirate milk so it comes out their nose, and it's just hard to get it right. I flashed back to learning to nurse Phoebe, how much there was to know about this thing that instinct tells you should come naturally. I mean, if I were dropped 9 months pregnant on a desert island with enough pork chops and ice cream, I would certainly be able to deliver myself of a baby and figure out how to nurse her, but it sure helps to have a midwife right there talking you through it.

  Angel explained that you can't push the rubber nipple directly against their young developing teeth or you could damage them so they wouldn't come in right. "Hard experience," she said, and I could hear in her voice that lessons learned the hard way take a toll on the heart. Angel explained that you always insert the nipple from the side, where rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits) have no teeth, then let the baby orient straight on to the nipple once it's in his mouth. Oh. It makes so much sense when she says it, but who'd know that without being told?

The little hands, gripping and re-gripping the bottle, just killed me. 

I asked lots of questions. How long do you think they've been without food? 

"If something happens to their mother, it takes three to four days before they'll leave the nest."

Three to four DAYS?? These little things have been starving that long?? It's amazing they're still alive. I had guessed correctly that they were driven out of the nest by hunger, but I'd never imagined they'd been in trouble that long. Man. A bird would have been dead within 24 hours.

How many babies in a typical litter?

"Four. There should be two more there." 

A chill went down my legs to my feet. Oh no. Nonono. I packed up my stuff, thanked Angel, and headed out. It was getting dark, and I could only think about the other two squirrellets, sure to be there somewhere.

I raced back to the site. It was really raining now. I listened from up on the road, not wanting to go back down that awful hill when it was slippery and getting dark. All was silent. When I found the two crying babies this afternoon, I had listened, but hadn't hear any more.

Reluctantly, I went home. But the thought that there were more squirrels chased me to bed, and woke me up the next morning.

I had a busy morning which segued into noon and suddenly I looked up and ran to the closet to suit up for a run. I looked at the sky. Pregnant again, and threatening a downpour. I didn't pack a raincoat. It was warm. Chet and I headed out, toward the cowpasture and the steep hill.

And upon getting near, my unbelieving ears picked up a weak peeping from way down in the woods. From the same spot. Another night and half a day had passed. And there were more. 

It began to rain, then to pour. I picked my way over the fence and down the slope again and started searching beneath the nest tree.

I was too late for this little boy. Thinking perhaps he was just torpid (as well as soaking wet and cold), I picked him up to warm him. But something, probably a shrew, had come up from beneath and, well, his underside wasn't pretty. I feel sure he was gone before that happened, though. 

The forest floor is a hard place to be a baby.

Still there was a peeping. I looked up and saw a tiny squirrel wobbling around atop the nest in the now-pouring rain. Unbelievable. It was agitated, its tail up, moving jerkily. 

I called to it as Angel had told me to, sucking my cheek in against my teeth, making a loud squirrelly smacking sound. It became even more agitated, and suddenly leapt into space and landed at my feet. 

All the air went out of me, and I stood there, my head ringing with the wonder and disbelief of it all.

It had landed well, on soft leaf litter, as well as you can land, falling 40 feet. 
And it was as if that tiny animal knew that the only way it was getting out of this predicament was to leap practically into the arms of a most unlikely savior. 

Suddenly I realized that it was no accident that the second squirrel had also jumped from the nest at the moment had I arrived yesterday. They'd heard me crunching around in the leaves far below, and hoped against hope that it was help they'd heard.

My eyes filled with tears at the realization that they were like people jumping from a burning building, hoping someone might be down there to catch them. 
Well, I was. Again.

I picked the dear little thing up and again, there was blood at the nose, and it didn't look great, but it  was better than being stuck in the nest in the pouring rain. 

Another male. All four had been males. 

It was getting on to time for Liam to come home, and it was pouring hard, so I stuffed the little thing into my sports bra and, one hand to my chest, ran for home. I felt fleas leave the cold little animal and riffle against my skin. The rain had picked up, and Chet was doing his hanging-back thing again, only moreso this time. He had started for home, wanting no part of this pouring rain, another squirrel rescue, or the temptation that went with it. I called to him to wait for me and he stood, one paw up, his ears pasted back, his back hunched, the picture of impatience.

He led me all the way home, and was so glad to finally make the front porch. Mether. Open this door. I am soaked! I have to scrubble around on the carpet and dry myself, snort like a pig and kick my arms and legs straight up! Now! NOW!

I peeled off my soaked clothes and quickly dressed, keeping the squirrel swaddled in down the whole time.

I called Bill and he was just coming from out of town, picking Liam up at the evening bus on the way. I told them to wait at the corner and I'd meet them and show them something they'd never seen. 

Liam's eyes got big as saucers when I got out of my car, reached into my bra and pulled this little squirrel out.
Bill took our picture. It was a moment.

I drove to Angel's house again, and held the squirrel while she mixed up another bottle of formula.

Another day out in the cold and rain, and this last one was somehow still alive. Angel told me that the big male, the one with the bloody nose, had died around dawn. The fall had been too much for him. She had buried him out back, and wept. After all these years of helping animals, her heart is just as tender as ever. She still had one left, the smaller male from that first batch--the baby I told you to remember. This would be the third I'd brought. The fourth was dead on the ground. At least I had accounted for all four of them. Two down, two still with us.

Famished, the new refugee lit into the bottle like a little fiend.

Fox Squirrel Rescue: Part II

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Serializing this story, keeping you all on pins and needles, reminds me of Ronald Reagan's old joke that my father loved to tell, about the family with the miraculous pig. It had saved them all from a fire. It went out and fetched the paper every morning. Etc. Etc. It was TERRIFIC! It was SOME PIG. 

A visitor noticed that it had only three legs and commented on the fact. 

"What's to become of this wonderful animal?" 
"Oh, we're going to eat it," the farmer replied.

"EAT it? You're going to eat this wonderful pig that's saved you from a house fire, that fetches your paper every morning?"

"Yep," the farmer replied. 

"A pig that good you don't want to eat all at once."

You who have been flapping your hands (oh how I loved that comment!) should remember that I still have a book to finish. Why would I disgorge the story whole in one huuuge post with 50 photos? It took me an entire day (and a long one at that) to construct the series, and I mean to ride it awhile. 
I have to!

When we last left Zick, she had her hands full of squirrel. 

I cannot tell you all the instant effects of being suddenly thrust into the position of caring for something so dear and at once so alien. There's a rush of oxytocin, the awww such sweet babies! hormone. I checked--was I letting down? Close...durn close.

 Then there's the need for information. Googling "feeding baby squirrels." Then there's the moment of panic. I'll be honest.

 I'm a licensed rehabiliator, but I'm skilled only at caring for birds. That's not to say I couldn't learn to be a mammal rehabilitator, but my learning curve would be very steep, and I needed to give these babies the best chance I could. There is a LOT to know about raising mammalian neonates. What I know you could put in an overturned thimble: 

Keep them warm, clean and dry. Feed them...something. All night long. All day, too.

One thing to love about feeding baby birds: They sleep. All night. Yes, they get you up at the buttcrack of dawn, and you feed them every half-hour until you drop exhausted into bed, but once there you CAN sleep. Not so with mammals. You're up two, three times during the night. On call for the foreseeable future, and sleepless. I don't do mammals. I did two of them, and one is in college now and the other one only wakes me up when he sleepwalks. Thank you very much, I'm done raising neonate mammals.

I was worried about internal injuries. I didn't like what I was seeing on the bigger baby. The smaller baby looked OK. Remember that baby.

OK. Get them home. Then get help.
It was clear to me they'd been without food a long time. They were only faintly warm to the touch. I could fix that. 

Warm them up. Make them a nest. Put them in the little Playmate cooler with hot water bottles. The flip-top one I use for baby birds and yogurt, too.

Now call someone who knows what to do. Just what people who find baby birds do, who wind up calling, email, texting, and Facebook messaging ME. Answering as I do sometimes scores of queries every day, it was interesting to be on the "HELP ME!" end of that equation for once. To have all my fingers crossed that someone knowledgeable would actually pick up the phone when I finally found the number I was looking for.

She was home. My squirrel angel. I exhaled. I introduced myself and launched into the story. I saved her the trouble of asking "Where are you?" (a question I must ask of every single caller) by giving her my location first. 
The only thing I had on hand that seemed remotely suitable as food was baby parrot hand-feeding formula. It might work, being grain-based, but I sensed these babies needed something more milklike, as they are mammals, and their teeth were only just coming in. She agreed. What I really hoped was that she'd be able to take them off my hands, do this thing right. But being a rehabber myself, I didn't want to come at her squawking, "Take these things! Make this YOUR problem! Now!" 
which is what we wildlife rehabilitators hear all day long.

I'm always on the receiving end, and I know how that feels, to have an anonymous caller re-route your day, and probably the next couple of months of your life, with something they've just picked up and desperately want to get rid of.

She agreed to take them, and I could hear her getting busy mixing up warm formula, washing and prepping the tiny bottles she uses. I said a prayer of thanks, spared the precious babies my ham-handed attempts to feed them and jumped in the car with a cooler full of warm sleepy squirrel. 

I cannot tell you how sweet it was to see these little creatures take sustenance after their ordeal. I'll just have to show you. 

From here, it gets interesting. Because Angel told me some things about fox squirrels I hadn't known.

Fox Squirrel Rescue

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I was running along a high ridge when I heard a vocalization that was unfamiliar to me. It was a piercing, mournful whistle, insistent and regular.
When I hear a birdlike call that I've never heard, there are two possibilities.

Possibility One is that it's a bird with which I'm not familiar. Because I bird by ear,  and have made it a point to learn firsthand every peep, burp and giggle of every bird that lives around here in this rumply corner of Ohio since 1992, that can only mean that it's a rare vagrant.

 On April 21, 2014,  I heard a mellow dove call, "who cooks for you?" coming from the orchard. And by the time I had run inside to grab the binocs and long lens, held up my iPhone and made a recording of it, I knew it was a white-winged dove, strayed here from the American Southwest. Or somewhere. I got reasonably unequivocal photos, considering the bird was backlit, and several great voice recordings to boot. Something like Ohio's fifth state record of the species. All from hearing an unfamiliar bird call. It ain't braggin' if you can back it up.

Possibility Two is that it's not a bird. This is actually more likely than that it's a bird I'm not familiar with. There was need in the call. Distress. I climbed the cow pasture gate and headed toward the sound. No way was I going to go home without figuring this out, and helping whatever needed help.

In the photo below, I ended up standing under the tree just right of center, the one with the dark spot in its crown. The cowpasture hill is so steep the cattle have cut parallel tracks in it, and I actually had to walk down it stepping sideways, lest I pitch forward and roll the rest of the way. Yes, we clear impossible slopes in Washington County, slopes that should by all rights be in forest, not "pasture." But hey. It's not a housing development, and there are bluebirds and meadowlarks. I'll take it.

I still didn't know what the sound was, but I had decided that despite the high, birdlike tone,  the metronome-like regularity of the call indicated that it was a mammal. By the time I got close to the source, I had narrowed it down to squirrel. A crying baby squirrel. The season was right.

Now you can see the dark nest in the  deciduous tree to the right of the pine patch, with a green pine at its base. These photos taken after the fact. I hadn't seen the nest yet, when I was trying to home in on the strange peeping.

I entered the woods and heard two crying at once. Now I knew it had to be babies. 

One voice was coming from the forest floor, the other from high in a tree. From a stick and leaf nest, draped with blonde inner bark strips. 

Just then, before my unbelieving eyes, a tiny animal launched itself into space and crash-landed atop a branch on the forest floor. Oh no! But what were the chances I'd be there at that exact moment?? There is an answer to that question, but I wouldn't realize it for another day.

It was the most beautiful baby fox squirrel I had ever seen. The first, actually. And he was cold, shivering, starving. Something must have happened to his mother. 

I searched quickly through the forest litter and found his sibling, who must have launched earlier, and had been crying intermittently the whole time. It was weaker, smaller.

From carefree and headed home from a 4.7 mile run, to suddenly and completely responsible for two precious and beautiful lives.

 Welcome to another installment of "Being Zick." 

A little bright red blood bubbled at the bigger male's nose. He was the one who'd taken the leap to land at my feet. 
That wasn't good. It spoke of internal injuries. He'd fallen at least 40 feet. 

All this time, Chet Baker had been with me, but hanging well back. He was intrigued by the high, peeping distress calls of the squirrels, but he would not come any closer than 50' while I searched the ground for them.

Finally, with a lot of coaxing, he came to me and sniffed shyly at the babies. 

He was struggling to contain his avidity.

Everything in his demeanor read disbelief. That I had two squirrels, his dream prey, in my hands. That now, since they were babies and in my hands, there was no way he would ever be allowed to grab them and give them a quick shake, as he does in his dreams. He's half rat terrier, after all. Fast and very skilled at dispatching small mammals. I could read his thoughts. RATS! Rats rats rats rats rats. She got to 'em first.

But remember--he had stayed absolutely clear of the area. He was actually hiding behind a multiflora bush as I searched for the squirrels!

At the mature age of ten, Chet Baker knows this about himself. He reminded me of a recovering alcoholic at a Christmas party, standing as far away from the bar as he can get. 

Look up "Good Dog" in the dictionary. There will be a picture of Chet Baker, Boston Terrier.

Now, what to do? My mind went into overdrive. I tucked the squirrels up under my chin, ignoring the fleas that riffled through their fur, and headed for the house, about a mile distant. By the time I got there, I'd have a plan. 

To Be Continued...

Spring Pops!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Oh, how I love these showery, flowery days. 
when the rainbow ends in a pot of gold. 

The Forsythia has gone by now, all green leaves and laggard blossoms. When it goes, the roses grow. I cut them back early this year, and they're beginning to bounce back from the horrible winter of 2013. Worried that I've finally lost Rio Samba, but I worry that every single spring, and she always surprises me.

Sometimes the rainbow ends on a real pot of gold. That would be Chet Baker.

I don't know that he's a pot of gold. He's a pot of somethin'. I've been reading some news stories lately about how people get a little squirt of oxytocin, the "love hormone," when they gaze into their dog's eyes. And the dog gets a little squirt too, and they both feel all gooey and good.

I call Chet Baker "Oxytocin Ocean."

The spring sky is pregnant mostly all the time. These stunning ranked Stratocumulus undulatus were much better in person.

I adore spring and fall for their dramatic light. You must run out quickly to catch it when it happens.

Our ancient pear, busting out with a rainbow chaser.

I cannot stay inside on days like this. Come on, Chet. Let's go!

In the driveway bluebird box, the first two treasures.

I go to visit my girlfriends, just putting on their spring formals, dancing in anticipation.

In the Hendershot box, two more. As I write, she's begun incubating with the third egg on April 18. I see her little face peeking out every time I go by. I get Easter eggs all summer long.

And even though nobody's there to appreciate it but me, the old farmstead is abloom, alight with white spirea, pink peaches and quince, gold forsythia, narcissus and daffodils.

The living legacy of settlers long gone blooms on.

I dream of living here, so far away from everything. Not in this house, though. I'd leave it to the squirrels and raccoons and rat snakes. 

Too bad about the dang telephone pole. I like this angle, though, with the pheasant's eye narcissus smelling so sweet, the golden forsythia growing wild in back.

On this day it was so warm I caught myself in an accidental upside-down selfie without my shirt. Sports bra's good enough for a 70-degree day and deserted dirt roads. My favorite kind.

Everywhere, American shad lights up the forest with its white candles. Where's Waldo? The tiny black dot on up ahead.

And a minuscule red eft crosses a gravel road. The smallest I've ever found. This photo is about life size.
I carried him the way he was headed, to a damp ditch. The Deus ex Machina he'll tell his little larval kids about, the hand that reached down from the sky to sweep him to safety.

Who knows how far he's already come, and how far he'll travel this year?

 He's looking for something. Someplace different than where he's been. I don't know how I see them, but I seem to run into them all the time.  Maybe because we're both on a quest.

But no great big benevolent hand is going to pick me up and carry me across. I have to get there all by myself.

Why Now, Flowers?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Everything's bustin' out. The redbud is out full. The forest is a haze of filmy green and rust and red. Deep within, newly arrived hooded warblers, ovenbirds and wood thrushes are singing. The birches are suddenly leafing and hanging in yellow catkins. I've started sneezing. It's spring in southeast Ohio!

And it is DELICIOUS.

And it's high summer in the greenhouse. I could have used a few of these blossoms in November! December! January! Why now, flowers?

I call this Abutilon "Sportin' Life," for its fabulous sport branch that makes yellow and sometimes pied flowers. Wahoo! what a lucky chance brought me this plant. I bought it at the end of the season last summer and carried it over in the greenhouse. One thing I've learned about abutilons (sometimes called flowering maples) is that they lurve having their heads cut off. Cut off their heads and they grow 20 more and bust out in blossoms. Quickly, too. 

Fuchsia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt" is goin' coo-coo. I need to divide it soon, get my shade garden going! With the more intense sunlight, it's getting darker foliage and flowers. Yum. What a wonderful, giving plant it is. Keeps blooming all winter long, and goes nuts outside, getting up to 3' tall if you give it enough room in its planter.

Quite the show of reds in gerania. I will be looking for my favorite variegated salmon "Frank Headly" this spring. I miss him so. He died in the big freeze two Novembers ago.

Oh the Path. You are going to kill me when those big fat buds open to 7" saucers all at once. You know that, though. I can hear you snickering. Planning my demise. I spent an hour staring at other Cajun hibiscus hybrids on Logee's website the other day. Lusting after them. But they are big plants. Really big plants. And they're aphid magnets. But ohh. I'm telling you if they were fragrant I'd be doomed. I'd have to build a bigger greenhouse.

I thought I'd be eco-friendly and buy wooden plant markers. I wrote on them in Sharpie marker and the damn things just rotted. Too eco-friendly if you ask me. Now I have no idea what my little mini gerania are called any more because I can't read the names.  I'll have to rename them. How about "Sadie?"

There's my beautiful variegated agave from Lori on the right. She sent it to me in the mail after the greenhouse freeze. 

Best part? The lettuce, tomatoes, tomatillos, and cucamelons are up! Wahoo! Now I wish I'd planted them earlier. Not January 19, but a couple of weeks earlier. Ah well. I got to it as soon as I could. Yes, I used wooden markers here, but I only need to be able to read them long enough to plant them out. May 5 or so. Going to plant some "Blue Point" zinnias soon. But they grow so fast I know I'll be sorry if I plant them too soon.

That ravishing cool pink geranium is a dwarf called "Rosina Read." I've had her for probably 15 years. Obviously pretty cold-tolerant, since she lives on the floor of the greenhouse. Gerania love a hot day and a cold night, and she gets that.

Why now, flowers? Because spring is the time for happy overload.
Bring it on. I've been starved for color. But a color junkie never gets enough.

Magic Bones

Thursday, April 16, 2015


I'd had a rough day. One of those where everything you're facing seems impossible, daunting and endless, and it seems things will be this way forever. I'd lost my way again. I lose it all the time.

When I feel helpless to effect change, to break out of the prison of circumstance, I fight it for awhile, thinking and writing my way, meandering through it. Thinking and writing help me understand my feelings, but they don't actually change anything. In the end, I just have to give up, give under, be thankful for all I have been given and stop yearning for what I haven't.

 I go outside, under the limitless sky. It's always been more home to me than my house.

 Mammatus clouds look threatening, but I didn't think they'd open up and rain. I didn't care, anyway. Let it rain. 

Just moving and paying attention to my breath going in and out helped. I don't have to stay in this feeling. I can't. I have work to do. I can lope it out. 

I never knew the past owners of this abandoned cabin had planted pheasant's eye narcissus! I could smell them before I saw them, the rich pungent perfume carried on the damp breeze. 
Little Ferdinand danced through the row, sniffing. 
It wasn't the first time I'd envied my dog his simple take on life. 
Oh look. Narcissus! They smell good. 

And just there it was, in the wash along a deer trail, of course, just below a barbed-wire fence.
Had he gotten it hung up on the wire, shaken his head in irritation, only to have this bony weight come suddenly free? 

However it had come to me, here it was.

I needed these three
Small points of grace, mine being
Worn down to the bone

Recent torrents had washed mud and pebbles over it, moved it farther downslope. But it can't have been there long. It was perfect, heavy and smooth except where it was nubbled at the base. One point had broken off somewhere along the way, but the buck had smoothed the edge rubbing, pushing through brush, fighting. Who knows. All I knew was joy.

I don't know why shed deer antlers bring me so much delight. For me it's like finding an Easter egg or an arrowhead, a message that someone has been here and left a present for you. 

When we were learning to drive, my wise and occasionally benevolent father used to tuck dollar bills in the seat belt receptacle of our Volkswagen beetle, as instant positive reinforcement for buckling up. It worked like a charm, made buckling up before turning the key a lasting habit in the four girls, until my older brother Bob figured it out and started stealing the bills for date money. 

He cheated at Hearts and Monopoly, too. It makes me laugh now to think how we'd holler when we caught him at it. Wish we could play a round of Hearts and catch him again.

 Finding a shed, as we call them, is like finding one of Dad's bucks before Bob did. The mice and squirrels who quickly chew them to shreds being Bob in this scenario.

Though it went against the Zen principle to which I lazily adhere, I decided to turn my run into a shed hunt. I lay my new treasure by a fencepost where I'd be sure to find it again and headed for a patch of winter rye my neighbors planted to attract deer. All winter long it's been dotted with distant deer, filling their bellies on lovely green salad instead of that damned shelled corn the hunters also feed by the ton. I like to see the does and fawns out at the end of the meadow, eating something remotely natural. 

I figured that where a lot of deer spend a lot of time, there might be a shed waiting for me.

I walked the meadow, searching, finding nothing, and entered the woods at the end. My unbelieving ears picked up the rolling tattoo of a ruffed grouse. I hadn't heard that here at home for probably 13 years. The grouse, once dependable, have been utterly gone. So much development and logging. But when the logged areas recover, the brush grouse like comes back in, and eventually the grouse return. They're cyclic in nature. I hope we're on an upswing. I'm out every day, and this spring I'm finally seeing and hearing grouse again. This was my third...I saw two red-morph males in March. And that is a balm to the soul.

I stood in the evening woods, watching the sun throw gold across the trees and distant hills, listening to the grouse drum again and again. He's just down at the bottom of that slope, where loggers left downed trunks like jackstraws on the forest floor.

And as I stood in wonder and joy, the first ovenbird of my spring darted high over the trees and spilled out his crazy evening flight song.

This is April. This is what she does, every minute. But you have to reach for the buckle to get the dollar. 

You have to go out into the April woods and see what she's got lined up for you.

I turned to see Chet Baker, my guide, always leading me on toward the light. All right, Bacon. I'll leave the grouse and come with you. You know I could stand here forever.

 I walked an odd, meandering path, up and down the flank of the huge bowl that in winter we fill with screams and laughter, sledding. I couldn't tell you why I took the odd path I did, but I walked right to second shed of the evening, a small three point, gleaming and perfect in the evening sun.

Who expects a grouse
gone for decades, drumming now--
Ovenbird in flight
spilling crazy notes--
Quaker ladies' quiet blue--
Or, as if guided
by my father's hand
To stumble on magic bones
when I'd been hoping
Just to breathe again?

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